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Chapter 7

PR 664 Chapter 7: Stack

Public Relations
Course Code
PR 664
Robert Dittmer

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Chapter 7: Ethical Concerns in Public Relations Research
Bowen and Stacks suggest that public relations research encompass five core principles:
intellectual honesty
respect for all involved
Michaelson and Stacks suggested that 14 core values fell into two divisions:
1. autonomy (respect for others, fair-ness, balance, duty, lack of bias, not using misleading
data, full disclosure, and discretion)
2. judgment (protection of proprietary data, public responsibility, intellectual integrity,
good intention, reflexivity, and moral courage and objectivity).
These core values are fairly straightforward and argue that researchpublic relations research
in particularis something that each researcher should examine each time he begins to
conduct research, which leads to the following ethical standard:
Research should be autonomous and abide by the principles of a universalizable and reversible
duty to the truth, dignity and respect for all involved publics and stakeholders, and have a
morally good will or intention to gather, analyze, interpret, and report with veracity.
Conducting ethical public relations research is difficult.
The public relations researcher works for a client or for an organization who ultimately “owns”
the research, the data, and the findings.
If the goal of public relations research is to gather data that truly reflects stakeholder
knowledge, feelings, motivation, and behaviors toward the client, then treating research
participants anything but ethically and honestly (there is a differenceyou can be ethical and
still be dishonest) runs counter to what public relations is all about
The ethical conduct of public relations is a topic that rises to the top of most discussions about
the industry sooner or later
In the ethical guidelines of the three largest public relations associations, the word research is
found in only one.
In Broom and Dozier’s Using Research in Public Relations: Applications to Program
Management (1990) and Pavlik’s Public Relations: What the Research Tells Us (1987), the term
ethics is altogether absent from the index.

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In Brody and Stone’s Public Relations Research (1989) offers statements about the “ethical
researcher” only when discussing various research methodologies, such as survey or focus
groups. In short, nowhere in the professional literature is ethics taken on as a serious matter for
intensive study.
Most public relations practitioners do not do their own research, preferring instead to
outsource it to companies whose business is to quickly and efficiently conduct research studies
for clients.
The number of public relations firms with research units has increased, but these are mainly the
largest firms, and often these units have been purchased by the firm and incorporated within
its practice umbrella.
With the exception of very large corporations (AT&T, General Motors, IBM), you will rarely find
research sections in corporate communication departments.
You may find someone who interprets the findings of others’ research, but typically you will not
find some-one whose main job is to conduct research. Even if you do find a full-time researcher,
that person will likely have little research experience.
Public Relations Ethics
Ethics deals with how people see right and wrong in a particular society.
What is ethical to Americans, may not be ethical to other societies. But all societies have their
own ethical codes and practices.
The same is true of business and commerce. We have ethical codes and practices in many
areas: medicine, law, accounting, and banking.
An ethical code is something we live by in our daily interactions with others, setting forth
acceptable standards of behavior by those who are subject to that code.
Ethical codes, however, are only as good as their enforcement.
In occupations where members are licensed to operate (medicine and law), unethical conduct
can result in the removal of one’s license and the banning from practice of those found guilty of
unethical acts.
Only regulated industries or occupations can truly enforce their ethical codes.
Other organizations may publicly condemn unethical behavior but lack the legal right to remove
or ban from practice those found practicing in an unethical manner

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Public Relations Ethical Codes
The public relations profession has several ethical codes of conduct.
Perhaps the most cited and widely held code of ethics, and certainly the oldest one
encompassing most of those who publicly identify with public relations, is that of the Public
Relations Society of America (PRSA).
PRSA’s Code of Professional Standards for the Practice of Public Relations was created in 1950
and has gone through several revisions.
PRSA members pledge to act in accordance with the code, to conduct themselves fairly,
truthfully, and responsibly when representing clients or themselves to the public, and to help
enforce the code when others are found to be in violation of it.
The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) has its ethical charter the Code
of Ethics for Professional Communicators first established in 1995.
This code’s 2009 version states that IABC members profess the following values:
that professional communication is legal, ethical, and done in good taste according to cultural
values and beliefs.
7. Professional communicators give credit for unique expressions borrowed from others and
identify the sources and purposes of all information disseminated to the public.
8. Professional communicators protect confidential information and, at the same time, comply
with all legal requirements for the disclosure of information affecting the welfare of others.
9. Professional communicators do not use confidential information gained as a result of
professional activities for personal benefit and do not represent conflicting or competing
interests without written consent of those involve
The International Public Relations Association (IPRA) is the third association in this profession
with ethical codes.
IPRA is unique in that it has several different ethical codes, with each basically adding a practice
code (Code of Venice, 1961; Code of Athens, 1965/1968; Code of Nairobi, 1991; and Code of
Brussels, 2006); these codes were consolidated in 2011.
None of IPRA’s codes, however, even mentions research.
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